I saw "Boyhood" at Kendall Square Cinema in August, and forgot to write my review. So, here it is. I first learned about the movie when I read Richard Linklater's profile in The New Yorker, which provided a good background on the movie and motivated me in catching it in theaters. In case you don't know, the movie follows a young boy over a period of 12 years, from age 6 to age 18. It was shot a few weeks at a time every summer, so that the actors truly age in front of our eyes - an interesting choice that has enthralled reviewers of all stripes. The boyhood in question has an almost archetypal quality: nothing too memorable there, except pthat his mother had worse-than-average taste in men, after the boy's father - one wealthy stepfather had a severe drinking problem - and the boy, who hopes to become a photographer, has more originality and creativity than most his age.
Here is the trailer:
I liked the movie quite a bit, but I have to admit I found myself bored at time, since there is no compelling thread propelling the story forward, and you just know the film will end when he is 18. Are we there yet? is a question that crossed my mind more than once when I was calculating the number of minutes left between now and the end of the screening. The best subplots for me were (1) when he gets together with the sorority-type girl who is attracted by his uniqueness at first and then cheats on him with a college lacrosse player and (2) anything involving the sister, played by Richard Linklater's daughter - I felt she was a better-drawn person than her brother, who spends a significant part of the movie looking moody (in an endearing way) and reflective and the tortured-artist-type.
Ellar Coltrane is an outstanding actor, no doubt about that, but the whole hoopla about "there is no young version of the boy to trot out at the movie premiere" is vastly overblown, in my opinion. The truth is, we don't spend enough time with the actors at each age to truly develop a connection with them. If you want to see actors age, just pick movies by your favorite (aging) actor over a twenty years time span or follow someone's career in the theater. I've followed certain stage actors at the Comedie-Francaise for twenty years, and I can think of one person in particular who is enormously talented, and also has aged substantially since his mid-twenties, when he looked like a heartthrob that made every lady swoon. (My understanding is that he smokes too much, although obviously I don't know for sure what has aged him so much: perhaps he works too hard, doesn't sleep enough, who knows. But his looks have, all of a sudden, faded very fast.) Watching the aging of actors in the "Boyhood" movie is also a happy process for the main character, slowly becoming a man - and a non-existence for his mother, played by Patricia Arquette, who looks remarkably the same over those 12 years (good for her!). It only gives you pause when you look at Ethan Hawke, who reminds me of that stage actor I was just telling you about. Aging, when it means people's losing their previously good looks, is a whole different matter than growing up in front of the camera.
Finally, (it's only a detail but I'll say it anyway), I very much disliked how the mother leaves her abusive second husband - the rich alcoholic - and takes her two kids with her, but we never hear again from the two children of said husband, stuck growing up with a violent father. Perhaps those kids could have been part of the party for the boy's high school graduation (we see other characters from his past), or he could have run into them, or one of them, in Austin. I felt they were abandoned twice: by responsible adults who left them with their abusive father, and by the film director as soon as that chapter of the boy's childhood was closed.
In summary, "Boyhood" is a good movie, but it is also vaguely boring given its 2 1/2 hour running time, and the device of filming a few scenes at a time every year for 12 years might work better for story lines with bigger narrative threads. This being said, you don't see a director trying something so unheard-of too often, and the movie makes me feel hopeful about the state of filmmaking today. No doubt that "Boyhood" will be remembered as one of the most important movies of the year.